When people location trackers are marketed as ‘smart badges’ by trusted brands (like ISTE), when their operations are not explained, and when the technology is obfuscated, people become de-sensitized to practices they may otherwise object to.
Did the people in these pictures know they were socializing and learning in an environment where each of their movements were tracked within a meter of accuracy? Did they understand how these data will be used, how it is secured, and with whom it will be shared? Do they each think the cost-benefit of sharing these location data are worth the yet-to-be-sent conference summary emails? Did the surveillance system actually allow ISTE to make adjustments in real-time to popular sessions that were turning away participants?
Yet, despite the email and the physical signs at the registration desk, many people asserted to me that they never received notice of the use of the ‘smart badge’. Of those that did, many had no idea how it worked. They thought it was just a QR code for vendors to scan. Many didn’t understand that it was a battery-powered transmitter without an off-switch. Not a one was happy upon learning what I discovered.
Did ISTE offer enough information to participants so they could make an informed judgment about the value of wearing the badge vs. the potential risks? Should wearing the badges have been an opt-in vs. opt-out decision for participants? For educators trying to manage the privacy and security risks of edtech in their own classrooms, what lesson does this incident impart about best practices and informed consent?
As ISTE and its members collectively mull through these questions, I look forward to hearing about the reactions to the after-conference reports that participants are slated to receive about their movements and presumed interests. Will folks feel like it added value? I bet for some segment of participants receiving that email will trigger concerns they didn’t even know enough to worry about in the first place. It will be the first time they realized their movements have been tracked.
My greatest objection to being tagged like livestock was that it would only be a short matter of time before some bonehead referred to the fantabulous “Smart Badges” as educational technology. When I mentioned this to my friend Chris Lehmann, he told me that it already had.
Q: Why is ISTE using smart badges?
A: ISTE recognizes the value of personalized learning and wants to do all we can to create custom and individualized educational experiences for each of our attendees. Smart badges will allow us to provide you with your own “ISTE 2018 Journey” post conference. The journey will detail the sessions you attended and the resources you collected. It’s like taking notes with your feet! Additionally, this data will allow the ISTE team to further personalize the conference experience now and in the future. This aggregate data, combined with registration information, will provide more comprehensive insights into attendee patterns and activities.
Therein lies the problem. Tracking students legs, bums, or corneas is not education. It is not personalization, a fantasy that after decades has produced little more than dispensing a multiple-choice question based on how well you answered another multiple-choice question. Personalized learning is at best machine-based testing. It has little to do with teaching beyond automation and nothing to do with learning. Yet, ISTE’s largest corporate sponsors profit greatly by this hideous handful of magic beans.
The greatest threat of the ISTE “Smart Badges” is the denaturing of educational computing’s powerful potential and the organization’s misanthropic service of corporate sponsors, often in ways detrimental to its members – the ones who justify its tax-exempt status.
The fact that an organization that should be leading the effective, thoughtful, responsible use of technology in education implemented such a fad at an event for educators is troubling. The ISTE Expo Halls were a frenzy of Apple, Google, Microsoft and others creating demand for their “learning opportunities” and giveaways with massive lines of early morning attendees hoping for tickets, invites, tokens. The whole time, throughout the Convention Centre, the Big Players deployed troops to frantically scan the QR codes of individuals waiting in line. So what exactly does this evidence tell us about personalized learning and how instructive will it be to ISTE’s sponsors when they receive this data? How will this data shape education? What does it tell us about learning, about institutional deprivation in the teaching profession? Is this about improving learning or the relentless drive of the ed tech industry?
At one expo stand we spoke with a thoughtful educator who asked if we were interested in the “monitor” function of the software on display. We asked what this did. “It allows you to monitor the activities of your students while they use the software. You can see if they are on-task.” We groaned. “Well, you are clearly not American,” came the reaction. Is the mindless use of personal data really going to result in such unfortunate generalisations? As we were leaving the booth the attempt to scan our badges failed. The blank spaces on our badges were noted gravely. Knowing glances were exchanged. We were part of The Others.
Everyone involved in education needs to take a stand against this kind of “personalized learning”. Forego the tee-shirt, the exclusive “hands-on” session invitation, offers to see the School of the Future, the stickbait badges, the free chargers.
Remember who schools are for. Before it’s too late.
Prohibiting students from cheating on traditional assessments using expensive tech tools to perform very basic 20th century tasks is the new transformation.
EdTech as we currently know it is dead, it’s over. We should retire the phrase right now. If education is to be the target of an industry that has grown increasingly obsessed with standardization, control, automation, and delivery efficiencies, then we must opt out. This is not to say that we should abandon digital tools in the classroom. Far from it. I am very much an advocate for learning environments that provide learners with opportunities to do things that will enhance deep learning and provide students with the potential to do real, meaningful work, not simply mimic it. But this approach to learning needs to reside with the individual learner in mind, not with an industrial mindset that is driven by a desire to impose efficiency and control solutions on all. This is what EdTech has increasingly become now and it’s dead to me after ISTE. Let’s imagine what learning can be, not how we can run it to scale with organizational and industry needs driving the agenda.
Forget EdTech. Learning is about learners and this includes learning with digital and other possibilities, not solutions. Learning should be by design, not product. Learners first.